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Ex-ruler favored in Nigeria poll

Published Feb. 16, 1999|Updated Sep. 28, 2005

A former military ruler and political prisoner was named the presidential nominee of Nigeria's most prominent political party Monday, putting him in a strong position to lead the nation's attempted return to democratic rule.

Olusegun Obasanjo, who ruled Nigeria for three years before relinquishing power to an elected government in 1979, will run as the Peoples Democratic Party candidate in May presidential elections. The party has won key victories in local government and state elections.

Obasanjo said he would fight to make Nigeria, a West African country mired in poverty, ethnic divisions and debilitating corruption, "great again."

Obasanjo, the only Nigerian ruler to give up power voluntarily, was jailed from 1995 until June last year by then dictator Gen. Sani Abacha for alleged involvement in a coup plot.

Nigeria has been moving toward civilian democracy since Abacha's death in June. His successor, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, has vowed to hand power over to civilians in May.

The All Peoples Party and the Alliance for Democracy are the other two parties contesting the election.

Serbian says his side willing to deal

PARIS _ Serbia is willing to make major compromises and grant rival ethnic Albanians broad self-rule, but it adamantly opposes having NATO troops police a Kosovo agreement, the republic's president said Monday.

For the first time since a Kosovo peace conference started Feb. 6, Milan Milutinovic indicated Serbs were willing to give up most of the demands that have stalled the talks, with the exception of NATO peacekeeping troops.

"We don't think that the troops are needed if the agreement is good and acceptable to the majority of people living in Kosovo," Milutinovic said, adding that abandoning NATO demands for a peacekeeping force was a precondition for any eventual peace deal.

The United States is pressuring Serbians to make a deal with Kosovo Albanians in five days or prepare to be bombed by NATO forces.

Ulster Assembly debates new regime

BELFAST, Northern Ireland _ Protestants heaped scorn on Sinn Fein leaders during a debate Monday that illustrated a peace process strained by approaching deadlines and the question of when _ if ever _ the IRA will start disarming.

The Belfast Assembly was discussing plans to create a joint Protestant-Catholic government for Northern Ireland when one spectator, a relative of an Irish Republican Army victim, yelled, "Hand in your guns, you murderer!"

The shout in the Assembly followed Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams' call for Protestant politicians to accept his IRA-allied party's democratic credentials "without preconditions."

The debate could last until Wednesday in the 108-member Assembly, elected in June to serve as the launching pad for Northern Ireland's new government.

A "yes" vote would clear the way for Protestant politician David Trimble and Catholic politician Seamus Mallon to oversee the formation of a 12-member administration drawn from four parties: Trimble's Ulster Unionists, Mallon's Social Democratic and Labor Party, Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists.

The British government, which has directly ruled Northern Ireland since 1972, wants to start handing over responsibilities to the local administration on March 10, but already has conceded that that deadline probably won't be met.

Trimble emphasized again Monday that he won't allow Sinn Fein to join the administration if the IRA doesn't start disarming.

British hostages freed in Nigeria

LONDON _ A British worker for Shell Oil and his toddler son were released unharmed by their kidnappers in Nigeria, a Shell spokesman said Monday.

Martin Westbury and his 2-year-old son Benjamin were brought to Shell International's offices in Nigeria by local chiefs early Monday, Shell spokesman Precious Umuku said.

"They were tired but unhurt," Umuku said. "They were in high spirits," he said.

Three armed youths kidnapped Westbury and his son Sunday in the southern Nigerian town of Warri, where he is the head teacher of the Shell school, then fled on the river in a speedboat.

Chinese journalist released from jail

BEIJING _ A prominent Chinese journalist was freed from jail Monday in a surprise release that may have been timed to counter criticism abroad of China's human rights record.

Gao Yu's parole for medical treatment came ahead of the U.N. Human Rights Commission's annual meeting next month. Human rights campaigners and members of the U.S. Congress want China censured at the meeting for an aggressive crackdown on dissent that began late last year.

Gao, whose six-year sentence on charges of leaking state secrets was not due to end until October, returned to her home in Beijing, said her son, Zhao Meng.

Under the terms of her parole, Gao could not talk to reporters, her son said. Gao, who turned 55 on Feb. 3, suffers from high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney problems, the son said. "Her health is not good."

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